Superstition of the horoscope
Sitting in traffic this morning on my commute to work, traffic was at a standstill (as per usual) and I had turned up the radio tuned in to a local station 94.7 fm. Stacey Norman has the morning show from 9 am and the topic of conversation for her slot today was about horoscopes. Now while I may be a little OCD at times – making sure the volume is always at an even number, or making sure my keys, cigarettes and wallet are all in their correct position out of fear of “feeling uncomfortable” – I do not believe in horoscopes. In fact i do not believe in superstition in any way or form… Now having said this, I do take a particular interest in examining the behaviour of others and found that this would be a wonderful opportunity.
A small extract of my recollection of Stacey’s words go something like this: “Do you, or do you not believe in horoscopes? and if you do, how often do you read your horoscope? Are they accurate? and do you deliberately act upon its’ advice?”. This was followed by numerous callers announcing on air the frequency at which they perform their daily,weekly or monthly ritual of reading their horoscope and how it affects them personally. The categories ranged from complete disbelief to total and absolute life changing decision making all being influenced by these snippets of text in a magazine, newspaper or internet article. This led me to ponder over the accuracy of horoscopes, their authorship and how a person could be confident/silly enough to place their future happiness into the hands of said author, be it anonymous or otherwise.
Now let’s get down to facts.
Fact 1. A simple google search with the phrase “How to write your own horoscopes” will bring up a multitude of How To’s and Step-by-Step instructions on how to go about writing your own fictional horoscope for entertainment purposes. A particular article posted on wikihow presents a 6 point guideline illustrating a few do’s and don’t’s. The first point given here advises you to “try very general statements” along with point two of “things that cannot be confirmed work well”. This is genius. Based on this information alone I can safely assume that by simply constructing a statement that is both a generalisation as well as having very little criteria required to validate it, I can convince another person to believe what I say regardless of truth!
As Michael Shermer puts it : “Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not”. And I truly believe that this instinctive behaviour of ours to find patterns even where they don’t exist is what allows us to be fooled by these superstitions much in the same way that casinos ingeniously lead us into believing that if the roulette table has spun a red seven times in a row that it is much more likely to land on black in any of the subsequent spins… The truth of the matter is that your odds NEVER CHANGE. Every time that little white ball gets released onto the numbered rotating table, you have the exact same odds of it landing on any particular colour than the spin before it or the spin to come after. Our NEED for patterns trick us into ignoring the seemingly obvious logic.
Fact 2. In doing the occasional online procrastination when work is minimal, I do a lot of reading through articles on a wide variety of topics. One of such topics that I encountered a while back was a psychology concept by the name “The influence of perception”. This concept rides on the basis that the world we see around us is influenced by our own bias towards our past experiences along with a few other aspects. An article that can be found here written by psychology expert Kendra Cherry explains this as being perceptual sets. Kendra goes on to explain the different aspects that could influence our perception of things including one that I find of interest for this topic which is “Expectation”. If I may quote her in saying that “Expectations also play an important role. If we expect people to behave certain ways in certain situations, these expectations can influence how we perceive these people and their roles.”
Horoscopes cause us to expect. They cause us to expect love, to expect money, to expect good, bad, or otherwise bland scenarios to occur in our day to day lives as instructed by our own particular horoscope for the day, week or month. Tracking back to what I mentioned with regard to humans being pattern seeking creatures combined with the ease at which our perception of the world is influenced and how most horoscopes are no more than strategically vague and easily fulfilled statements, you can see where I’m getting at. We read a horoscope in which we are told to expect a curious money transaction, and so for the foreseeable future our minds revolve around this expectation, restlessly anticipating any small pattern of scenarios, real or not, that would cause us to believe that the statement our horoscope made has come true. And once we are caught in the idea that this could all be actual revelations, we fall into a pit of blind faith and resolve to no longer question these crystal ball predictions but to live them whole-heartedly.
But there is an upside to all of this. If a lot of people believe in horoscopes, and if a lot of horoscopes refer to good things, good influences and overall optimistic scenarios, then it would mean that we inherently have a lot of happy smiling people walking around with a much greater positive outlook on life. Wouldn’t the world be so much nicer if everyone around us were happy?
So while I find this to be a ridiculous past time that can’t possibly hold any water with reality, I am willing to concede that the benefits of having an outlet with which we are able to positively influence the world(regardless of how false or far-fetched it might be), might far outweigh the negative side-effects that may be caused by having overly superstitious neighbours.